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CAN COCONUT OIL COMBAT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE? SEE WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS

Mya Care Blogger 23 Jan 2024
CAN COCONUT OIL COMBAT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE? SEE WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is an irreversible brain condition that gradually worsens with time, affecting memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most prevalent cause of dementia, a term that describes a group of symptoms that impair cognitive function and daily activities. According to the World Health Organization, more than 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-70% of these cases.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, yet there are some treatments that can help slow down its progression and enhance the quality of life for patients and their caregivers. However, these treatments are not effective for everyone and may have side effects. To prevent and combat this devastating disease, there is a growing interest in natural alternatives.

One natural remedy that has gained popularity in recent years for Alzheimer’s prevention is coconut oil. Despite any claims made about it, research remains inconclusive concerning its effectiveness in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. These claims are likely to be linked to early findings that have uncovered the potential health benefits of coconut oil.

This blog explores the science behind these claims and to what extent coconut oil might benefit those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Can Alzheimer’s Be Prevented with Coconut Oil?

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood, and current research has yet to uncover any definitive ways to prevent it. Each case is likely to be unique and multi-factorial, involvinga combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

Coconut oil alone cannot inhibit or reverse any of these factors. However, preliminary research suggests that it may offer some unique benefits to those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Some studies have found that one of the main factors that contribute to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition where the cells in the body do not respond properly to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. As a result, the blood sugar levels become too high or too low, causing damage to various organs, including the brain.

Insulin resistance can impair the brain’s ability to use glucose as fuel, leading to energy starvation and oxidative stress. This can trigger inflammation, oxidative damage, and accumulation of amyloid-beta plaques and tau tangles in the brain. These abnormal protein deposits are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. They interfere with the communication and function of brain cells, giving rise to symptoms.

Coconut oil offers a high content of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs may be of benefit pertaining to the negative brain effects of insulin resistance.

MCTs are a type of fat that is absorbed and digested easily. They are transported directly to the liver, where they are converted into ketones. Ketones are a type of fuel derived from fats that can be used by brain cells when glucose (the main source of energy for the brain) is low or unavailable[1], as seen in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Coconut oil is a natural source of MCT oils that can be rapidly metabolized into ketones to boost brain power and possibly improve cognition in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

That said, existing research on MCTs and coconut oil in Alzheimer's management is limited. There is a need for further research into the prospective preventive benefits of coconut oil for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Coconut MCT Oil Benefits for Brain Health

Coconut MCT oil benefits are ascribed to ketones. Aside from acting as an energy alternative to glucose, ketones are thought to benefit the brain in several ways.

They can stimulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth and survival of brain cells. Initial evidence has suggested that ketones mayalso lower inflammation associated with amyloid-beta plaques[2] and their formation in the brain[3].

Several studies indicate that coconut oil or MCT oil (a concentrated form of the beneficial fats found in coconut oil) confers many benefits for those with Alzheimer’s disease, such as[4]:

  • Improved memory
  • Enhanced attention
  • Better language skills
  • Higher executive function
  • A more positive mood
  • Reduced behavioral problems
  • Better daily functioning

In theory, you can supplement some of your glucose requirements with ketones from coconut MCT oil. Doing so may lower the risk of insulin resistance, which might otherwise negatively impact brain health. While this could potentially prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease onset and progression, no research directly confirms this to be true.

Coconut Oil Side Effects

Not everyone responds to coconut oil or MCT oil in the same way. Some people may experience no benefit or even adverse effects, such as gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, nausea, or increased cholesterol levels.

It is essential to consult your doctor about supplementing them, especially if on a specific protocol or medication.

How Effective is Coconut Oil for Alzheimer’s?

While there are well-documented brain health benefits of ketones, it is uncertain how much coconut or MCT oil would be required to exert an effect and for how long these fats may help.

Several studies were used to assess whether a diet enriched with coconut oil may be effective in improving outcomes for those with Alzheimer’s disease. The results showed minor improvements in certain aspects of cognition, including language processing and temporal orientation (time-related information processing). Some of the studies made use of coconut oil alongside other dietary changes, making it unclear whether participants directly benefited from it or not.

While daily coconut oil consumption may yield some benefits, they appear to be minor and uncertain.

Coconut Oil and the Ketogenic Diet

Some people have suggested switching over to a ketogenic diet to enhance the brain benefits of ketones[5]. The ketogenic diet involves consuming more fats and less carbs to shift energy requirements from glucose to ketones.

Switching over to a purely ketogenic diet is not advisable for the majority of health conditions as there are many dangers associated with it.

Side effects of a long-term ketogenic diet include:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Fatty liver (hepatic steatosis)
  • Elevated kidney stone risk
  • Possible malnourishment

There are also no standard rules for the diet, and results across studies are entirely inconsistent.[6]

Studies have also shown that those with Alzheimer’s are likely to struggle with a high fat intake[7] and that there are safer ways to regulate both glucose and fat metabolism.

It is safer to opt for a low glycemic diet high in fiber-rich vegetables that promote the right bacteria and minimally affect blood glucose levels. Good gut flora help produce short-chain fats that enhance ketone production while also regulating blood glucose levels and inflammation.

However, as the elderly are more prone to digestive issues, MCT oil or coconut oil may be of benefit to supplement some of their daily energy requirements.[8] [9]

Coconut Oil vs MCT Oil: Which is Better for Brain Health?

While neither coconut oil or MCT oil can be expected to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, each of them possesses unique health properties.

Out of the two, pure MCT oil may be more potent in terms of supplying the brain with more energy. However, coconut oil consists of other components that may pose additional benefits. Their differences are briefly review below.

The composition of coconut oil is as follows[10]:

Saturated fat: 86.5 g per 100 g of coconut oil

  • Lauric acid (C12): 48% of saturated fat
  • Myristic acid (C14): 16% of saturated fat
  • Palmitic acid (C16): 9.5% of saturated fat
  • Capric or Decanoic acid (C10): 8% of saturated fat
  • Caprylic acid (C8): 7% of saturated fat

Monounsaturated fat: 5.8 g per 100 g of coconut oil

  • Oleic acid (C18:1): 6.5% of monounsaturated fat

Polyunsaturated fat: 1.8 g per 100 g of coconut oil

  • Others: 5% of polyunsaturated fat, mostly linoleic and linolenic acid

Coconut oil is mostly comprised of lauric acid with a small amount of MCT oil and other fats, which means that the benefits are not the same as pure MCT oil.

According to some sources, coconut oil and lauric acid are superior to MCT oil in the following ways:

  • Inhibiting pathogenic bacteria and fungi in the gut.
  • Cooling the body down; possibly useful for reducing a fever.
  • Lowering inflammation levels of specific cytokines thought to contribute towards dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, such as IL-6.

MCT oil has proven to be more effective than coconut oil in terms of:

  • Producing ketones (it produces more at a quicker rate).
  • Increasing satiety and sustaining one for longer, resulting in less food intake.[11]
  • Promoting healthier long-term fatty acid metabolism and better weight loss.

Further research is required to assess the extent to which these oils confer the health benefits mentioned above.

The myristic acid and palmitic acid in coconut oil may also induce long-term health consequences if consumed in excess, such as high LDL levels[12], obesity, and metabolic issues. These side effects arise when coconut oil is the only oil used for cooking for prolonged periods and when it is consumed in excess on a high-fat diet[13].

How to Use MCT Oil and Coconut Oil for Improved Cognition

If considering increasing one’s ketones for Alzheimer’s prevention, it is very important to balance one’s fatty acid intake with the rest of their diet to prevent metabolic complications.

In light of the above considerations, it may be beneficial to cook with coconut oil and to use MCT oil supplementally for its higher ketone potential.

There is no consensus on how much coconut oil or MCT oil you should take for enhancing brain health. Neither oil may be effective when supplemented, and the results are likely to vary. As high-dose coconut oil may be ineffective or lead to undesirable side effects, it is essential to consult a qualified healthcare professional for tailored advice.

Here are some general guidelines that may be helpful:

  • Start with a low dose, such as one teaspoon of coconut oil or MCT oil per day, and gradually increase it until you reach the desired effect or the maximum tolerated dose. Some people may benefit from up to four tablespoons of coconut oil or MCT oil daily. Exceeding this quantity is not recommended.
  • Take coconut oil or MCT oil with food or beverages, such as smoothies, coffee, tea, yogurt, or oatmeal. This can help prevent stomach upset and improve absorption.
  • Balance coconut oil intake with other healthy cooking oils, like olive oil and nutrient-dense prebiotic foods that offer a low glycemic load or challenge.
  • Exercise regularly throughout the course of the week.
  • Try to space meals at least 3-4 hours apart or practice intermittent fasting to improve insulin sensitivity, ketone body production, and overall metabolism.
  • Stop using coconut oil or MCT oil as a supplement if it is found to be ineffective or if it causes side effects.

Remember to store coconut oil or MCT oil in a cool, dry, and dark place.

Coconut oil may solidify at temperatures below 24°C (76°F), but this does not affect its quality or effectiveness. You can melt it by placing the jar in warm water or heating it at a low temperature on the stove for a few seconds before using it.

What Type of Coconut Oil Is Best for Brain Health?

Choose organic, virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil or pure MCT oil. MCT oil should contain at least 60% caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10), the two types of MCTs that are most effective for ketone production.

Avoid hydrogenated or refined coconut oil or MCT oil that contains additives, preservatives, or artificial flavors. These can reduce the quality and health benefits of the oil.

Conclusion

Coconut oil is a natural and safe solution that has shown promise in preventing and fighting Alzheimer’s disease by providing ketones to the brain cells. Ketones can improve the energy and function of the brain cells, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and may prevent amyloid-beta plaques. Preliminary studies suggest that coconut oil may also improve memory, attention, language, and executive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment.

However, coconut oil is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Currently available research, while promising, is inadequate to definitively substantiate the benefits of coconut oil for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It cannot substitute medical treatment or a healthy lifestyle. If you are considering incorporating coconut oil or MCT oil into your diet, it is advisable to consult your doctor for expert advice. This is particularly important if you have a medical condition or take any medications. You should also monitor your blood sugar and cholesterol levels regularly and report any changes or side effects to your doctor.

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To search for the best doctors and healthcare providers worldwide, please use the Mya Care search engine.

Sources:

  • [1] https://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.neuropsych.20230017
  • [2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31953123/
  • [3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30554068/
  • [4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30056419/
  • [5] https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/treatments/alternative-therapies/coconut-oil-and-dementia
  • [6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7480775/
  • [7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33406436/
  • [8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9203050/
  • [9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26766547/
  • [10] https://coconutoils.com/nutrition-facts/
  • [11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28689741/
  • [12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31928080/
  • [13] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464623002001

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